a closer listen

Izabela Dłużyk ~ Soundscapes of spring

Izabela Dłużyk’s Soundscapes of summer was A Closer Listen‘s favorite soundscape of 2016, and her latest album is just as remarkable.  For this release, the artist has turned the dial back to spring, and we’re hoping (reasonably so) that the project will eventually become a quadriptych.  The sounds here are as clear as any we’ve ever heard; the mastering is dynamic, the sequencing superb.  To listen is to enter into a dream world that is actually real, including the “endangered Bialowieza primeval forest, Siemianowka lake (and) Biebrza marshes.”  It’s a privilege to be able to hear these environments from the other side of the world, and to wonder at their fullness.  Most people live near birds (or the other way around), but few people live near such a variety of voices.

When it comes to field recordings, proximity is not enough.  One needs the ears to hear these sounds, the equipment to capture them and the wisdom to decide how to present them.  Dłużyk has all three.  Having been born blind, the artist is particularly attuned to the richness of timbres and the depth of the sonic field.  On our own, would we hear what she hears?  Perhaps not; she hears for us, walking us through the day, from morning to night, alerting us the fascinations of the forest ~ something all too often lost in the desire to get somewhere rather than to rest.  Sit still, she seems to be saying, and realize what you have.  The album’s uninterrupted flow reflects invisible editing, allowing for great turnover in sets of sounds without the distraction of pauses.  Imagine each room in a house as a separate sonic environment; now walk through the house and note not only the changes, but the carry-throughs: an echo from the last room, a beacon from the next.

One of the early highlights is the appearance of the trumpeters, announcing the morning like a band of heralds.  The dance of the birds has begun.  One can hear their joy as they greet the sunrise, ask each other about the night, provide news and details of the day, and make plans for lunch.  In a way, they’re just like us, except without coffee.  In “Golden Melodies”, one particularly brave bird moves forward to provide foreground commentary.  In the next track we hear counter-singing; later in the recording, a mother feeds her young.  The rhythms of the day are apparent in the activities of the various species, many with distinct voices, joined by friendly frogs and buzzing insects.  When a dog starts barking nearby, the entire forest grows agitated.  When the predator leaves, everything relaxes. It’s easy to anthropomorphize; just imagine arriving at work and being told that the boss is in a bad mood.  Sure, one won’t be eaten, but when the boss starts coming your way, the feeling of fear is the same.

The artist writes, “Through recording the natural world, I try to capture its beauty, its subtle music, its gentle voice. I try to understand its mystery: the mystery of life – this indescribable treasure we share with all the creatures, the mystery of fleeting moments, of sadness and hope brought by changing seasons.”  If there is a lesson to be learned from the release of this recording in fall, it is that spring will come along again.  The joy of the birds will return, as it always has.  No matter how bad one may feel about loss ~ the loss of summer, the loss of love, the loss of innocence ~ new blessings still await.  All too often, we forget that life is cyclical, but the birds, and by extension, the field recording artist, remind us of these timeless, comforting truths.  (Richard Allen)